Purpose: This paper aims to draw attention to the weakness inherent in the current theoretical model underpinning built asset maintenance and to propose a new performance based model that aligns maintenance/refurbishment expenditure to corporate performance. Design/methodology/approach: An action research approach was used in which participants from within a commercial organisation worked with the research team to develop a new theoretical approach to built asset maintenance. A series of meetings, workshops and interviews were used to: evaluate the organisation's approach to built asset maintenance; identify opportunities for improvement; and develop a new conceptual model of their built asset maintenance process. The logic underpinning the conceptual model was tested through a series of presentations to the organisation's middle and senior management. Findings: The current theoretical model underpinning built asset maintenance does not allow direct links to be drawn between expenditure and impact on business performance. The new approach forces facilities managers to consider the business implications of their actions before large maintenance programmes are developed and provides feedback mechanisms to monitor the impact of any actions against key business drivers. Research limitations/implications: At this stage the new performance model is still theoretical and requires implementation to test its robustness and resilience. Practical implications: The adoption of the model will force facilities managers to consider the implications of their maintenance/refurbishment actions at a strategic level, thus placing their considerations on a similar footing to their human resource and financial counterparts. Originality/value: This paper extends the performance based concept to built asset maintenance and provides a practical process model through which the concept can be implemented. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.